Tag Archives: Pope

Blessing the Union

Today’s Huffington Post reports that Pope Benedict has laid down some standards for priests counseling engaged couples…

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI told priests Saturday to do a better job counseling would-be spouses to ensure their marriages last and said no one has an absolute right to a wedding.

Benedict made the comments in his annual speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal that decides marriage annulments. An annulment is the process by which the church effectively declares that a marriage never took place.

Benedict acknowledged that the problems that would allow for a marriage to be annulled cannot always be identified beforehand. But he said better pre-marriage counseling, which the Catholic Church requires of the faithful, could help avoid a “vicious circle” of invalid marriages.

This is the Church doing its job. The Catholic Church, or any religious group, can and should make it clear which life events it will celebrate, and who it will accept into its membership.

Also, the Pope is telling priests to offer the best pre-marital counseling, with a goal of preventing marriages that are likely to bring grief and breakup. This is religion helping people to live better lives.

Most people who seek pre-marital counseling from a priest didn’t just wander in the door. They want a Catholic wedding. They could just go to a Justice of the Peace, and make it legal, but they want the blessing of the priest, and for that they have to follow the rules of the Church.

We don’t demand that non-Catholics follow the rules of the Church. The Church has a moral stand that divorced people can’t re-marry, but we don’t expect the State to conform to that. Saints be praised.

I’m no longer a Catholic, so it’s as an outsider that I say that the custom of ‘annulment’ seems less respectful of marriage than legal divorce. To me, claiming that vows made in good faith and a marriage attempted never existed is to deny that we are fallible, and sometimes make promises we can’t keep. It also denies that most marriages that break up had some good times, and some ex-spouses are loving and unselfish as parents.

It’s got to be painful when after the trauma of divorce an ex-spouse receives a Church summons for annulment. It’s a protection for them that the State recognizes a legal marriage contract apart from any actions by the Church. The Diocese of Providence requires that couples obtain a legal divorce before they will consider an annulment petition, in line with standard Church practice. The legal marriage cannot be legally disolved by the Church, and the religious vows cannot be undone by the State.

My good friend, after a painful divorce, asked her Rabbi for a Jewish ceremony for healing and to put to rest the vows that could not be kept.

The State recognizes and validates a union. Religion meets spiritual needs. Both have their place.

If we accepted that the Catholic Church should influence divorce law, because a majority of Rhode Islanders are Catholic, we might please the majority– who might see this as defending marriage. But it would be a mess for the rest of us.

The Pope is absolutely right to focus on good premarital counseling as a way to protect marriage in his Church, and the Church should bless only those unions it considers valid.

They should let the State be the State, legal protection for all citizens regardless of religion. They should let same-sex couples, divorced, inter-religious, non-Catholic– go to City Hall. Or to a church that will welcome and affirm their union.

Like William Saletan Said

When I have a break from work I want to reprise some forgotten history of how the Catholic Church arrived at its ban on all birth control methods except periodic abstinence. After Vatican II and the passing of Pope John XXIII, the next Pope, Paul VI had to make a ruling on the use of the birth control pill– a new discovery that was shaking up society and gender relations. ‘The Pill’ was invented by a Catholic doctor, who thought that the Pope would approve its use.

The Church created a beautiful religious philosophy that overlooks the misuses of power in marriage, the suffering of women when they cannot control conception, the desolation of children orphaned by death in childbirth, the despair of mothers and fathers who cannot feed their children. The Catholic world is not known for shining a bright light of care and regard for children, or high respect for women. This is not intended as disrespect to the good Catholics who do reflect the best of their faith. But Catholics collectively are human beings– no more or less saintly than the rest of us. ‘Of Human Life’ was the title of Paul VI encyclical. Human life is mostly bound by physical realities that we only occasionally transcend. There has to be a place for mercy. To impose a moral standard that most will fail, and then collaborate with secular powers to block the choices of ordinary people is the way of the Church. To acknowledge that there are some people who cannot meet that standard, and that it can be a moral act to try to control the harm that might result is a radical departure.

William Saletan in Slate.com has a post on this…

This isn’t an endorsement of condoms. It’s more than that. It’s an explication of the morality of condom use. It’s an analysis of how prophylactic sexual conduct can honor the principles—responsibility, care for one’s partner, enduring moral standards—in whose name Humanae Vitae denounced contraception.

Benedict’s concession applies only to disease prevention. But it shakes the foundations of the church’s injunction against contraception.

There are religions that endorse birth control as a moral act of love and responsibility. The majority of married couples in the US use birth control and the institution of marriage continues to exist. Marriage may be sacred, but it never reached escape velocity from earth’s gravity. Jesus said that there is no marriage in heaven– it’s something for our imperfect, material life.

The Pope’s words will mark a breach in the wall between a spiritual conception of human life, and the need for mercy and respect for the realities of the physical world.

A Breach in the Wall

American Catholics are an unruly bunch. They do things like occupy churches that were supposed to be closed and sold, they pursue and investigate abusive priests, and generally act like the democratic process can be taken into church.

Early on, American Catholics in large numbers decided to make their own decisions about birth control. To become a parent is such a life-changing event that few couples are willing to ‘have as many children as God sends’ with no consideration for their capacity or desire to care for a large family. The Church’s permission to use periodic abstinence inspired research in the fine science of making it work, and theologians constructed beautiful explanations of why that form of contraception is moral but condoms are a sin. Catholics in the developed world had to make their peace with the contradictions between the Church’s teaching and the reality of their lives.

For the most part, they did. The crisis happens at the margins.

It happens when a rape victim seeks treatment at a Catholic hospital and is not offered emergency contraception. It happens when a nun is excommunicated for allowing an abortion to save a woman’s life. It happens in countries where the Church uses its political influence to limit women’s access to reproductive care, and where the status of women is low. It happens where a wife has no power to protect her own health when her husband is infected with HIV. It happens when the parish priest tells her that she must submit and trust God.

As of now, the Pope is not saying that a woman may require her husband to use a condom– that doing so is an act of responsibility and respect for her as a human being.

As of now, the Pope is exploring the ethics of harm reduction and human regard for oneself and one’s sexual partners using the example of a male prostitute who wants to protect himself and others. From the New York Times …

In the new book, “Light of the World,” to be published Tuesday, Benedict said condoms were not “a real or moral solution” to the AIDS epidemic, adding that that “can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

But he added that “there may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”

AIDS activists were thrilled. “This is a significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican,” the executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on H.I.V./AIDS, Michel Sidibé, said in a statement. “This move recognizes that responsible sexual behavior and the use of condoms have important roles in H.I.V. prevention.”

This is a breach in a wall of dogma, behind which is the suffering of the world’s poor– who bear the burden of HIV, maternal and child mortality, and disempowerment. If a teenage boy forced to sell his body has a right to use a condom, how can you say a married woman does not? How can you say she has no right to protect herself from a pregnancy that threatens her life, her health, her ability to support her children? This wall is going to crumble like the Berlin Wall, despite efforts to patch it up…

Richard Dujardin in the Providence Journal reports that the advocates and providers who work in HIV prevention are taking the Pope’s statements as supporting condom use for protection from a deadly disease. Local theologians are rushing to block the obvious conclusion– that couples may have a vital need to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. They are also reminding us in the strongest terms that the Church considers birth control to be a sin and the Church uses its power to limit access to birth control and discourage people from using it.

Paul Gondreau, who teaches the theology of the body at Providence College, said that he sees it as ironic that Benedict’s comments were part of an attempt to defend remarks he made on a plane trip to Africa last year, in which he said use of condoms would not help the AIDS crisis there but make it worse.

Gondreau said that he saw nothing in the pope’s new remarks that would suggest that he or the Church would be ready to approve the use of condoms by a married couple if one of the partners has AIDS.

David O’Connell, president of Catholics for Life, said, as he sees Benedict’s remarks, his focus is not so much on not spreading AIDS, but on the prostitutes’ recognizing that the “person with whom he or she will be engaging in this intimate act is someone more than one who will give me money.”

“It speaks nothing about marriage or contraception but the beginning of caring for another human being.”

As for a married couple, one of whom has AIDS, O’Connell said he does not believe that the only choice facing such a couple is condoms or abstinence.

“As I understand it, God may still have a desire to create a new human being in a relationship blessed by God even if one may have a disease. I’m sure the church teaching will not change.”

Early in the AIDS epidemic, health care providers were debating the options for people infected with HIV who wanted to have children. These people were going to have children despite the risk, but were open to measures to decrease the chance of passing HIV to the baby. The prospects of a healthy birth are very good now, but only because of effective drugs and the strong advocacy of patients and providers, who gave urgent attention to this question. It doesn’t hurt to say a prayer, but lives are saved by the work of doctors, nurses and others in the material world who dedicate themselves to protect mothers and babies.

Katha Politt, at The Nation reminds us that conception and birth are never risk-free and can be catastrophic for some women– especially the poor women of the world…

It hasn’t mattered that a woman who got pregnant could be beaten or thrown out of her home, that she could lose her job, or that the sex might be rape by a partner or a stranger. Well, actually, in the 1960s, nuns in Congo were permitted to use birth control pills to protect themselves from impregnation by rapist soldiers. Ordinary women, even in wartime, are out of luck.

Nor has it mattered that a woman might be injured or die if she conceives. After all, like AIDS, pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous. In the developing world maternal mortality rates are themselves an epidemic: according to the World Health Organization, about 350,000 girls and women die in pregnancy or childbirth annually, and this does not take into account birth injuries like fistula or the long-term toll on the body of having many babies too close together. The church has been adamant that women have no right to protect themselves from conception except by periodic abstinence, which requires a cooperative partner and has a real-life failure rate of 25 percent.

At the margins, where the Church has more power and women have much less, the impact of the Pope’s words are strongest. And that is where the injustice of denying women the right to protect themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy is most deeply felt. I don’t think the Church will be able to close this breach– too much pent-up force is behind it.

Theologians are constructing lovely circular arguments to explain why it’s in God’s will that children lose their mothers to AIDS and women and infants die for lack of the power to control conception– but the Pope said that people have a right to protect themselves and that doing so can be an act of respect for themselves and others. You can’t take that back.

MORE: The Pope, in his example of a male prostitute using condoms for disease prevention– to protect his own life and others until he is able to find a better life– is using a classic example of the harm reduction philosophy. More on that here…

Pope Considers Harm Reduction

Pope Considers Harm Reduction

The Pope’s remarks about condom use are a striking example of the reasoning behind harm reduction.

MANILA, Philippines—Some church members in Southeast Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation praised Pope Benedict XVI for saying condom use might be justified in some cases, though Filipino bishops stressed Sunday the church leader still opposes contraceptives.
Speaking to a German journalist whose book was excerpted in a Vatican newspaper Saturday, the pontiff reiterated that condoms are not a moral solution for stopping AIDS. But he added that in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”

‘A first step’. I don’t think the Pope intends it that way, but this is a breach in the wall of absolutism.

Harm reduction strategies, such as clean needle distribution for injecting drug addicts and condom distribution were created as a response to a deadly epidemic, and are intended to prevent people at risk from getting infected and infecting others. Needle exchange sites distribute information on drug treatment and make referrals to treatment centers– unfortunately the referral is usually to a waiting list. But the ethics of harm reduction is to buy time for people who will one day find a way out of the self destructive behaviours they engage in. There’s always the risk of becoming an enabler. Programs of harm reduction have to be carefully constructed and monitored.

Zero tolerance, imprisonment and ex-communication are other ongoing strategies that can’t claim more success. I think that life is messy, and purity has killed more people and ruined more lives than sin. We’re only human. When we aim for perfection we more often land on arrogance.

Defining condom use as a sin, and then saying that this rule can be broken to prevent a worse harm– HIV infection, is a humane answer to the imperfection of our circumstances, and our human limitations when debating right and wrong.

The Pope made it clear that Catholics are still forbidden to use condoms for contraception.

When the Catholic Church is ready to consider the real lives of women, then theologians will find their way to an ethics that respects the moral agency of women and men in deciding when to take on the awesome responsibility of parenthood. Using a condom or other method of birth control is an act of love for yourself and your family, and an acknowledgement of our power as rational and technologically blessed human beings and the responsibility that comes with it. Teaching young men to respect their power as potential fathers would do more good than teaching them to disrespect women.

Anyway, it doesn’t take Kmareka precognitive powers to see that the Vatican will soon be ‘clarifying’ this perfectly clear, and reasonable statement by the Pope. But there’s a whole suffering world of dis-empowered people behind the wall of dogma, and the Pope allowed a breach. It’s going to take a boatload of theological double talk to patch it over.

A Change of Heart?

Has the Pope started to really listen?

Pope Benedict XVI wept as he met Maltese victims of the paedophile priest scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday and expressed his own “shame and sorrow”.

“He listened to us individually, and prayed and cried with us,” said Lawrence Grech, one of eight abuse victims who met the pope for 25 minutes in the Vatican’s embassy in Malta.

The Vatican said that Benedict “expressed his shame and sorrow over what victims and their families have suffered.”

Is this the change predicted by Kmareka in Pope Benedict’s Confession?

It is often said, the Catholic Church is not a democracy. A radical conversion by the Pope could change everything. If it does, you heard it here first.

Of course, repentance not followed by action will not make any difference, or appease critics or those who have been wronged. That doesn’t seem likely, but anything can happen, and often does.

Crying Nazi

Feministe has a post that says it all. Contrary to highly placed spokesmen for the Catholic church, unflattering coverage in the New York Times is not the same as genocide.

It’s my humble opinion that a high-tech lynching is more survivable than the low-tech. Being criticized for wrongdoing and suffering harsh editorials can’t be compared to being targeted for extermination by your own countrymen under a vicious regime. The Pope, himself a survivor of that regime, should tell his priests not to cry Nazi.

Tough Talk in the Times

Maureen Dowd is mightier than a nun with a ruler in her Sunday column. Some singed vestments out there. John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter argues that Pope Benedict has done more than his predecessors to combat child abuse. No doubt this is true, but not convincing. Let me explain using a parable.

Once there was a man who bought a huge old house that had been divided up into apartments. He used his life savings to buy the house and moved into the landlord apartment on the top floor. Soon he discovered a problem.

The plumbing, which was as old as the house, had never been upgraded. The previous three owners had done almost no upkeep. To do the job right would be hugely expensive and disruptive.

Soon some of the tenants from the basement apartments began to complain of stopped drains and bad smells. The landlord hired the same handyman who had done work for the other owners. Duct tape was applied.

It was only a matter of time until sewage backed up into the basement shower. The landlord had his guy remove the shower and cap off the pipes and all was well for a while. But then a bad smell started to rise from the cement floor. The landlord had his guy put down a new coat of cement. The smell was gone but the tenants had started to complain. They wanted a real fix, instead of having to wonder when the old pipes were going to fail again.

“Why me?” the landlord asked them. “It’s not fair to blame me for all this. I’ve done more to fix this problem than any of the previous owners. Besides, no one on the top floors is complaining about bad smells. I think you are just persecuting me.”

That’s my answer to John L. Allen. The Catholic church did not invent child abuse and they are not the only organization plagued by revelations of crime and cover-up. But the Church has to take responsibility for what’s coming up the drainpipes. If Benedict has done more, it’s basically because he has no choice.

Real fundamental reform of the institution would not be cheap or easy, but if they do not fix the mess, then no one will want to live in the house.

ANOTHER VOICE: Sinead O’ Connor was sent to an Irish reform school as a child, she writes about the culture of abuse that should not be allowed to prevail.

Defending Celibacy

Anyone remember the Providence Journal’s ‘Face of Religion’ page? A frequent contributor was Dale O’ Leary, who liked to rant against feminists. Just before the Catholic church sex-abuse scandals broke, she began writing columns about forgiveness. After the first pedophilia stories came out, she claimed that enemies of the Church were gloating.

Well, I’m not an enemy of any church, except maybe Fred Phelps’ band of lunatics. I can’t work up a snark about the pedophilia stories either. It’s sickening, and it’s frightening. As a parent, it worries me that trust can be betrayed like that. As a parent, you have to be able to send your children into the world and trust that adults in authority will act honorably. When they don’t, it’s not only an occasion for outrage, but for grief.

I can’t really get into it now, too heavy and sad.

But there is a Catholic scandal I can enjoy. I wish more priests had followed the example of Father Cutie. The popular priest made headlines when he was photographed kissing a pretty woman. Soon after he was outed, he married his girlfriend, who was 35 years old and single. Gloat, gloat.

Father Cutie said that he still defends priestly celibacy, but he thinks it should be optional.

This is a very humane and realistic view. Opinion writers are suggesting that celibacy is the reason for the troubles in the Catholic church.

I think that’s simple-minded.

Celibacy is a valid life choice, and the Catholic church has institutions and traditions that allow celibate people to live in community. The Church is one of the few organizations that celebrates and honors the celibate life. Blaming celibacy wrongs the nuns, brothers and priest who serve their communities with dedication.

Most people, if they are honest, will have to admit that there were times in their lives when they were celibate. It’s not something we like to talk about, it’s worse to be on the shelf than in the closet.

It’s this ex-Catholic’s opinion that the sex-abuse scandals in the Church are an extreme manifestation of a culture of child-abuse. The Pope’s brother, while denying knowledge of sex-offenders in his organization, apologized for slapping choir boys. A couple of years ago three denominations in Canada were implicated for decades of systematic child abuse– the Catholic church was the only one of them that refused to acknowledge wrongdoing. Physical punishment and humiliation of children was accepted in Catholic schools for decades after society had renounced these harsh methods. The indifference to children’s vulnerability and fear allowed predators to hide in plain sight. They knew that no one was listening to the children. The Church today is paying for denial and cover-up long past any excuse. Victims of abuse pay a higher price than money.

Is celibacy the cause? Don’t make me laugh. Abuse of power, a secretive hierarchy and a lack of honesty about human sexual feelings is where I would look first. The Church will scapegoat its homosexual priests and the World will blame celibacy.

I like the Unitarian church, where homosexual members and clergy are respected. Where celibacy is not disparaged and single people are not ignored in the rush to ‘family values’.

The Catholic church could certainly ease its priest shortage by making celibacy optional and ordaining women. Or it could pay more attention to the ethics and mental health of its clergy and identify and remove abusers of all kinds. Or it can cling to its power and blame the world for being worldly.

I just want to defend the good people I know who really do practice a celibate life, with a love that extends to the community, and with passion. Celibacy is a valid choice, and celibate people should not be stained with a scandal that is rooted in abuse of power and fear of change.

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